Friday, August 17, 2012

Take From the Rich and Give to the Rich

Can you imagine something like this happening in the United States?  The chairman of a big corporation, convicted of embezzling $264 million from his company, was sentenced to four years in prison and, also unusually, taken from court directly to prison.  According to the Hankyoreh, "Traditionally, courts have given suspended sentences in such cases, arguing that the businessmen involved deserved leniency for 'contributing to economic development.'"  It's also likely the the sentence will be suspended on appeal, as has happened in some previous cases.  But public outcry against such leniency has made some progress.

In the US, President Obama has claimed that the government couldn't prosecute the Wall Street players who brought down the US economy in 2008 because much of what they did wasn't illegal. While this is true in some cases, it's not true in all of them.  It doesn't seem likely that Chairman Kim Seung-youn was unaware that stealing money from his own company was against the law.  Like his American counterparts, he was counting on the enduring principle of civilized life that the rich and powerful have certain privileges, that the law is for the canaille, not for the better classes.  So far that principle still holds in South Korea, but it appears to be under attack in a way that we haven't seen yet in the Land of the Expensive.